By Philip P.
August 19, 2004
authorities have detained a prominent, U.S.-based Buddhist
leader in connection with his plans to reopen an ancient temple
complex in Inner Mongolia province and have forced dozens of his
American followers to leave the region, local officials said
The U.S. Embassy here said it has requested an explanation from
the Chinese government and plans to protest the treatment of the
Americans, several of whom accused police of physically removing
them from the temple and seizing their property.
The embassy also urged the Chinese government to respect the
rights of the detained spiritual leader, Yu Tianjian, 53, a
Chinese citizen who holds a U.S. green card and has been the
abbot of the Dari Rulai Temple in Los Angeles for nearly five
years. His students consider him a "living Buddha," or an
enlightened teacher who has been reincarnated, and the "dharma
king," or leader, of a branch of Buddhism with perhaps millions
of adherents worldwide.
Yu's detention is the latest sign of an official crackdown on
unauthorized religion in China that appears to have intensified
in recent months. Eight Roman Catholic priests were arrested in
a raid last week in Hebei province, a U.S.-based rights group
said Wednesday, and another U.S.-based rights group reported the
conviction of three underground Protestant leaders in Henan
province this month on charges of "providing state intelligence"
to overseas organizations.
Yu, also known as Dechan Jueren, was detained Aug. 11 after
being called to a meeting by officials in Kulun county, where
his organization, the Buddhist Foundation of America, had spent
the past year and more than $3 million renovating an
800-year-old temple, said one of his aides, Dan Kendall.
Kendall said officials told Yu's students that he had been
charged with "promoting superstition." A government official in
Kulun reached by telephone confirmed that Yu had been detained
for "some type of religious activity," but referred questions to
local police, who would not comment on what one officer
described as a "secret operation."
Yu's arrest occurred three days before the planned reopening of
the Xingyuan temple complex in Kulun, located about 375 miles
northeast of Beijing. Scores of Tibetan Buddhist monks had
traveled to Kulun for the celebration, and more than 100
Buddhist adherents from the United States, Canada and Japan --
many of whom had donated money to help restore the facility --
were on their way.
But after Yu's detention, local authorities cut power and water
service to the temple, military police forced about 70 monks
into buses and drove them away, and other officers dragged
Kendall and six of Yu's other American students out of the
complex, Kendall said. Police then hauled away two truckloads of
valuable statues, religious artifacts and other personal
property from the temple, he said.
The U.S. Embassy said police interrogated one American citizen
at a local hotel, then released the person.
Kendall said the raid was a surprise because Yu had received
government permission to renovate the temple and hold the
celebration. "They welcomed us up there with open arms, but I
guess they changed their minds," he said. "They took our money
and kicked us out."
The foreigners who had traveled to China for the festival --
advertised on the Internet as "an unprecedented gathering of
five dharma kings" and hundreds of other spiritual leaders and
teachers -- were stopped at roadblocks in the region and barred
from even seeing the temple.
"We paid thousands of dollars to come here, and many of us have
donated a lot of money to this temple to be opened," said one
traveler, Marcia Small, of the Toronto area. "We're not getting
what we paid for."
A local religious affairs official, who spoke on condition he be
identified only by his surname, Li, declined to comment on Yu's
status and said the government was responsible only for ensuring
the safety of the visitors and sending them home. "The
activities are over," he said. "The guests were relatively